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Judis: Stop Me Before I Turn More Cynical

John B. Judis has an article on TNR.com alleging that U.S. and British officials “cried wolf” last month when they announced the arrest of 24 British Muslims for plotting to blow up intercontinental airliners. He writes that “doubts have been raised” about the initial claims of the British and U.S. authorities. Specifically, Judis points to anonymous statements in the press to the effect that the plot was not as far along as the authorities said it was, nor did the plotters themselves seem capable of pulling off what they were allegedly plotting. He ends with this argument:

None of this is to suggest that the United States and Great Britain don’t face a threat of terrorist attack from radical Islamic militants. If the Heathrow plotters had been allowed to operate with impunity, they might have succeeded sometime this fall or early next year in blowing up ten airliners. But, by hyping the danger–as he had previously done with the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction–Bush administration officials create the possibility that the public, when it sees through the administration’s attempt to manufacture hysteria, will turn cynical and not take seriously the need to remain vigilant in the face of a genuine threat from abroad.

Let’s concede for argument’s sake that the Bush administration is in fact guilty of ”hyping the danger” (a large concession – even Judis admits that the Heathrow plotters, operating with impunity, might have succeeded in blowing up ten airliners). Is this likely to make the public more cynical and less vigilant in the face of the terrorist threat?
Even if the administration hyped the danger, these radical Muslims wanted very badly to execute their planned attack. Regardless of their chance of succeeding, this fact is not in dispute.
Americans remember that five years ago, a similar group killed 3,000 people with nothing more complicated than boxcutters. So how is news of this plot — which reminds us that highly motivated terror cells are still trying to kill as many of us as they can – supposed to make us less vigilant?
Judis’s concern about the American public’s cynicism strikes me as insincere, considering it’s voiced at the end of an article designed to stoke it.

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